Nuclear deal with India
Controversial pact tops Bush's agenda
March 1, 2006
When President George W. Bush lands in New Delhi today, he will have the chance to strengthen ties with India in what could become one of the United States' most important relationships of the 21st century.
India matters to the United States. It is the world's largest democracy and will soon surpass China to become the world's largest nation. By 2020, if trends continue, its economy will grow faster than any other. And a Pew Research Center poll found that 71 percent of Indians have a favorable view of the United States - the highest proportion of any country sampled.
At the top of the agenda for Bush's meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be a proposal for a U.S.-India nuclear power agreement, growing the nations' economic and security ties, and India's crucially delicate relations with Pakistan.
Overshadowing the individual issues is the administration's intent to form a strategic relationship with India. It is a critical goal, first initiated by President Bill Clinton with his 2000 visit to India - the first state visit to New Delhi by a sitting U.S. president in more than two decades.
But the focus of Bush's visit is a landmark nuclear deal proposed last summer when Singh visited Washington. In it, the United States would share nuclear technology and fuel for civilian power production with India, in exchange for India's opening its civilian plants to international inspections and pledging not to sell nuclear technology for weapons. The deal, which would entail a change in U.S. law, is opposed by some in the U.S. Congress because it violates the tenets of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
But India already has some nuclear weapons, and the deal would limit its ability to make many more. More important, it would help India sate its growing thirst for energy to fuel its economic boom, lessening upward pressure on oil prices. And it could wean India away from energy deals with Iran. As a pragmatic compromise the nuclear agreement has merit, especially if it becomes the basis on which to build closer ties with Asia's emerging geopolitical giant.